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RG 30/37 - Florence Mary Fitch (1875-1959)
Scope and Content

The papers of Florence Mary Fitch document Fitch’s student years in Oberlin, Munich, and Berlin (1892-97; 1900-03) and her subsequent career at Oberlin College as a biblical scholar and writer of children’s books. They also contain materials relating to three preceding generations of the Fitch family (1807-1936). Virtually no record exists in these papers of Florence Fitch’s tenure as Dean of Women at Oberlin (1904-20). The records of the Office of the Dean of Students (Record Group 12) commence in 1928, eight years after Fitch resigned that position.

The Fitch papers are arranged into six records series: I. Fitch Family Correspondence; II. Fitch Family Miscellany; III. Correspondence of Florence Fitch; IV. Diaries and Account Books of Florence Fitch and Anna Haskell Fitch; V. Writings; and VI. Photographs and Postcards.

Fitch family correspondence dates from an 1807-08 exchange between Spencer Coleman (B.A. 1805, Williams College) and Hannah McKeown Coleman, Frances Fitch’s paternal great-grandparents. The Coleman’s daughter, Eliza Hudson Coleman, was the wife of Martin Luther Fitch (1815-1893), Florence’s paternal grandfather, a Staff Sergeant in the Civil War. This collection contains forty letters (1861-64) from Martin L. Fitch to his family written while serving with Company “C” of the First Regiment of the Ohio Light Artillery. A calendar of these letters is located in the case file of this collection. Also present in Series I is courtship correspondence (1870-72) between Frances’ father and mother, the Rev. Frank S. Fitch (1846-1918) and Anna Haskell Fitch (1847-1936), as well as a small group of letters from the Rev. Fitch to his wife and children written during his trips to Europe (1888), the Holy Land, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey (1893), and to Edinburgh (1908). Items of a miscellaneous nature relating to Frances Fitch’s parents are housed in Series II, and family photographs are housed in Series VI.

The outgoing correspondence of Florence Fitch (1881-1957, n.d.) largely constitutes letters written home to her parents (“Dear ones at Home”). These letters (returned to her upon the death of Florence’s parents) provide a nearly unbroken account of her activities over a seventy-year period. The bulk of her letters are concentrated between 1892 and 1917. Early letters (1881-1892, n.d.), again written to her parents, describe her schoolwork and church activities and hint at a career as a foreign missionary. Letters dating from Fitch’s undergraduate days at Oberlin College (1892-93; 1894-97) pertain to her studies, social events, and Y.W.C.A. work. There are no letters for the year 1893-94 or for the years 1897-1900, as these were periods of residence with her family in Buffalo, New York. Later letters, 1903-1916, report on campus-wide activities, events, and faculty and friends.

Florence Fitch’s doctoral work at the Universities of Berlin and Munich is documented in weekly correspondence written between 1900 and 1903 to her family in Buffalo. Letters are richly detailed and offer an excellent resource for examining the experience of one of the first women to study philosophical theology in the German universities. Letters (July-October 1900) describe Fitch’s travels in England and Germany prior to settling in Berlin, her living quarters in Berlin, the library, other women students, other foreigners studying or living in Berlin, social gatherings, her impressions of her professors and various cultural and bureaucratic obstacles to be faced, Prof. Harnack’s lectures on the New Testament, her study of the works of philosopher William James (1842-1910), and her successful completion of her thesis and oral examinations in July 1903.

Florence Fitch traveled widely during her student days and later as a research scholar. Diaries (1901-02) kept by Florence and her mother, housed in Series IV, describe their travels together in England, France, Italy, and Germany during Florence’s residence abroad. Subsequent travels to China and Japan (1915), to Israel, Syria, Greece, and Egypt (1926-27), and to India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, China, Japan, and Hawaii (1936-37) are recorded in correspondence and depicted in hundreds of labeled photographs and postcards, housed in Series VI. Of special interest are her ms. notes of an interview she conducted in December 1936 with Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) in Benares, India, together with a letter to her sister, Anna (1873-1946), describing her impressions of Gandhi. Also included are notes for an interview with Miss Margaret Slade, the British follower of Gandhi. A published account of the Gandhi interview appears in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine for December 1937.

Well documented in this collection is the immense popularity of the books Florence Fitch wrote to introduce children to world religions. Files include manuscript typescripts of A Book About God (1950-51), A Little Boy Learns About God (1953), and Daughter of Abd Salam (1931-32); correspondence received from readers, and press reviews of the books. The bulk of incoming correspondence relates to the highly acclaimed One God: the Ways We Worship Him (1944). Other writings of Florence Fitch, housed in Series V, include drafts of articles, research notes, outlines for two Oberlin courses, “Introduction to the Study of the Bible” and “Early Christian Life and Thought,” pamphlets, scripts for radio broadcasts, and addresses on various subjects, including her travels to India, Japan, China, and to Oberlin’s Shansi mission at Taigu. Ms. talks given by Dean Fitch to entering Oberlin College freshmen (1904-14) offer insight into Fitch’s views on relations between men and women students. Filed with these are photocopies (1914-18) of Oberlin News Tribune articles on the debate over the “Women’s Rules,” which occurred during Fitch’s tenure.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Fitch Family Correspondence, 1807-78, 1888, 1893, 1900, n.d. 1.2 l.f.

Correspondence of Fitch family members arranged chronologically. For a calendar of Martin Luther Fitch’s letters to his family written during his service in the Civil War, see the case file for this collection.

Series II. Fitch Family Miscellany, 1852-1936, n.d. .4 l.f.

Marriage certificate of Frank and Anna Fitch, ms. draft of an autobiography by Frances’ maternal grandfather, Pliny Fiske Haskell (1823-1908?), ms. student essays, student scrapbook of Frank S. Fitch, condolence letters received by Frances Fitch, and photocopies of obituaries of family members. Arranged alphabetically by topic or type of material.

Series III. Correspondence of Florence Fitch, 1881-1959, n.d. 2.2 l.f.

Correspondence of Florence Fitch is organized into two subseries in order to preserve the groupings of correspondents designated by Fitch and the initial chronological arrangement established by the archivist in 1969.

Subseries 1. Outgoing Correspondence, 1881-1957, n.d.

Letters sent by Florence Fitch chronologically arranged. The subseries is maintained as organized in 1969, with some incoming letters interfiled.

Subseries 2. Incoming Correspondence, 1897-1959, n.d.

Letters received by Florence Fitch alphabetically arranged by correspondent. Includes one letter from Alice Moon Williams (1860-1952) describing the history of the Shansi mission in China and several letters from Henry Churchill King (1897-1927). Other correspondents include scholars Hilma Granquist and Vivienne Vitharana.

Series IV. Diaries and Account Books of Florence Fitch and Anna Haskell Fitch, 1900-93, 1919, 1926-27, 1936-37 .4 l.f.

Includes account books and diaries kept by Florence Fitch during her residence in Germany (1900-03), her European travels with her mother (1901-02), and later trips abroad (1926-27; 1936-37). Also includes three diaries kept by Florence’s mother, Anna Fitch, during travels with her daughter (1901-02). Arranged alphabetically by type of material and thereunder by author.

Series V. Writings of Florence Fitch, 1915-55 1.2 l.f.

Writings, published and unpublished, arranged alphabetically by type of material and thereunder chronologically or by title or topic.

Series VI. Photographs and Postcards, 1870-1958 2 l.f.

Includes Fitch family photographs and Florence Fitch’s travel photographs. Family photographs are arranged chronologically and labeled by subject. Travel photographs, with negatives and postcards, are arranged alphabetically by the subjects designated by Florence Fitch and thereunder by type. Postcards are of the photographic variety. Many of the photographs are identified on the verso by Florence Fitch. Also includes a packet of wild flowers collected by Florence Fitch while in Palestine (see Palestine folder).

Series VII. Miscellany [1994/26]

This series contains artifacts, including the binoculars loaned to the U.S. Navy in World War I, and the citation from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, thanking Fitch for the loan. Also included is a typed letter from Summer wells to Dr. A.R. Keppel, president of Catawba College (Salisbury, N.C.) concerning Keppel’s request to have Wells deliver the June 1947 Commencement address.

Provenance
The papers of Florence M. Fitch were transferred to the College Archives from the Oberlin College Library in three accessions, in 1969, 1970, and 1988. Frank S. Fitch’s scrapbook was transferred from the Oberlin College Library, Department of Special Collections, in 2001.
Related Materials

Correspondence (1904-06) of Florence Fitch relating to Y.W.C.A. affairs is located in Record Group 29, Subgroup II, Series I. Although Fitch served thirty-two years as a trustee of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association (O.S.M.A.), there is no correspondence of hers in Record Group 15. A letter written by Florence Fitch on the retirement of Lydia Lord Davis from O.S.M.A. (1944) is contained in Davis’s retirement album, located in Record Group 30/80.

For Florence Fitch’s description of the ceremony conferring doctoral degrees at the University of Berlin, see The Oberlin Review for December 17, 1903, pp. 240-41, and a related article in the June 11, 1903 issue, pp. 600-02. The Oberlin College Library and Special Collections department hold first editions of Florence Fitch’s books, a college scrapbook (1870) of the Rev. Frank Fitch, and other materials relating to the Rev. Fitch.

Florence Fitch’s The First Church in Oberlin 1842-1942: Centennial Celebration is filed in RG 31/4/1 Records of First and Second Congregational Churches, Subgroup I, Series 15, Box 1; and is also available in the Oberlin College Library.

 
 
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